By James McCombe - 27 Jan 15
Some bikes look absolutely stunning on a computer screen in all their pixelated glory, smothered behind a sepia filter like a sultry pin-up. But there's always that nagging question; will the machine live up to the dreamy looks once a leg is swung over and the wheels start rolling? Like that pin up, there's always the risk they'll have the personality of a paper cup. Sure, we all know we can have a laugh on something with knobbly balloon tyres and 30 bhp, but sometimes, that craving for proper road rubber and a grunty power unit comes-a-knockin'. And it's times like that when the Rasio D'Karmah would do very nicely indeed. With their name taken from the Welsh for 'Racing' it comes as no surprise that Rasio's bikes have one foot firmly in the performance hemi-sphere, with the other seemingly in stunning aesthetics. Growing from a friendship through motorcycle racing, a passion for all things with two wheels and ultimately, the overwhelming need to have fun, Mark and Andy got inspired, got a garage and got building. It was after the first Bike Shed meeting in Shoreditch, that initial builds were planned, boiling down to a simple remit: "Stripped of all un-needed junk, clean, uncluttered cockpits and ultimately be built to be ridden; a racing ethos if you like." The exception that proves the rule, a distinctly unloved 1980 Ducati Darmah was found discarded in a barn. Being a literal barn fine, it had lay unloved for more than 20 years until a chance conversation landed it in the guy's hands. Whilst not the most inspiring specimen from the Italian brand, the Darmah nevertheless has a loyal following and restored examples tend to stick very closely to the factory spec. This wasn't the Rasio way, so risking the wrath of the owners club, the decision was made to head down a path of no return. Decided early on that the original forks and twin rear shock setup would be discarded, the frame required some serious modification. All completed in house, an entirely new headstock was fabricated and grafted on, in anticipation of a Ducati 1098 front end; meaning Ohlins and Brembo goodness. The frame also received new top rails, along with additional gusseting and bracing around the front to ensure the enhanced braking prowess wouldn't tie the original trellis up in knots. At the rear, the swingarm was converted to accept a monoshock, the suspension picking up directly under the main frame top tubes, while a nifty Ohlins Shock keeps the rear wheel planted. This combination of traditional trellis and quality modern suspension integrates beautifully, making the bike deceptively simple to look at. Whilst it's easy to slap on a set of stainless spoked wheels and call it Cafe'd, Rasio went a different route. Astralite's are now back in production after a 20 year break, the perfect period wheel for the bike. Made in the UK to modern metallurgy and manufacturing standards, the gold anodizing ties the whole bike together. Planting it firmly in the late '70s, early '80's the split rim design ties in beautifully with the boxier styling of the L-twin. A firm nod to the performance options available to the bike when it was originally made. When hoiked out of the frame, the motor was in a sorry old state externally, but sweet inside having only covered 10k miles. And while the squared off covers don't quite have quite the grace of the earlier Ducati power units, a metric ton of polishing paste has transformed it into a star attraction. Rasio, being guys who like to do things properly, stripped the motor anyway. Cases were blasted and powder coated and many a long night polishing got the supporting parts up to visual standard. Rebuilt with new bearings and shells throughout, she breathes through a set of new Dellorto PHM 40 carbs. The whole unit hangs in the trellis looking unfeasibly simple, yet unmistakably Ducati. The stunning lines of the bike can really be attributed to that tank. It's an NCR replica from an old 900SS race bike but it needed susbstantial work to bring it back to life. After a thorough hammering, welding, filing and English-Wheeling, a classic timeless black and gold paintjob looks like it came straight from a factory racer. Butting up against the solo seat, the combination is the definition of 'purposeful'. With the Rasio Dragon logo capping the black vinyl hump, it's down to the recessed tail light to remind you this is roadbike; but whip that number plate off and you feel you could go hunting for Hailwood. Maintaining the D'Karmah's identity, the original headlight was retained, being modified to contribute to the minimalist remit. Keeping the cockpit clear, the speedo was inset into the bucket, and the necessary relays and fuses were tucked inside along with it. A new wiring loom incorporates a light weight Ballistic Li-Po battery, further reducing weight and allowing it to be kept out of sight. This is one of theose bikes that looks almost purely mechanical in it's functionality. Despite being assembled from 3 decades worth of parts, the bike is extremely cohesive, to the point that if Ducati released it as a sibling to the new Scrambler, you'd never question it's origins. As Mark says: "Throughout the build, the objective was to blend the modern running gear with the classic Bevel drive motor but with a period cafe racer look. Not easy given the original donor but we think we've pulled it off and created a classicly styled Café racer with modern day overtones." On the first run out, they happened upon an owner of a Mike Hailwood replica and the guy quickly became besotted with the decidedly un-dowdy Darmah. That sounds like a home-run to me. With a full pipeline of projects, the Rasio guys are going to be busy trying to loft themselves over the stupendously high bar they've set. But with a Honda CX, BMW Airhead and a classic styled Triumph Chop in the works, it sounds like there's something for everyone. Head over to their Facebook page for some previews of what's coming. And a hearty slap on the back must also go to Max Grizzard for the gorgeous photos of the bike, and for somehow making England look like something from an Italian Renaissance painting. Splendid.